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No end in sight in dispute between Amazon and Hachette

Shots fired in the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette in the US over profit margins on ebooks: so little faith does the online retail behemoth appear to have in resolving the situation quickly that, in a post on its Kindle forum earlier this week, it recommended that anyone in urgent need of a Hachette title ‘purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.’ That’s Amazon – the company so keen to retain your business that it hopes to integrate drone technology to make its deliveries more efficient and might use your browsing history to send you items that you didn’t even order but probably want – turning away your business rather than accepting Hachette’s terms. In this ‘mum and dad are going through some things’ scenario, dad just rented a flat on the other side of town.

Amazon also laid out in fairly blunt terms what anyone following this dispute knew already: ‘We are currently buying less (print) inventory and “safety stock” on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette — availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.’ That inventory has, in some cases, been taking up to five weeks following the placing of an order to reach the customer.

Hachette yesterday responded in kind, releasing a public statement saying Amazon’s actions are negatively affecting its authors:

It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors’ lives. For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers’ ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection.

By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

Adding that it would ‘spare no effort to resume business relations with Amazon’, Hachette nevertheless continues to insist on terms that ‘value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them’. So, just a stand-off with no end in sight between a monolithic retailer and one of the world’s biggest publishers, no biggie, we’ll all be home by Christmas, etc.

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Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.

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